Women and Cars: The Rise of the Female Petrolhead
The classic car community has long been a male-only club. Cars, in general, have always been seen as an essentially masculine hobby, with no room for women. But that’s all changing…
A Hidden Involvement
From their advent, cars have provided greater mobility for both men and women. As one farmwoman in the 1920s said, when asked why her family had bought a car rather than installing indoor plumbing in their home, “You can’t go to town in a bathtub.” But, surely, the plumbing would have provided an advantage to the whole family, the vehicle only to the men? Cars do, after all, traditionally belong in the male domain.
If that’s what you believe, then you should know that you’re wrong. It’s not that a female contribution has not existed, but only that it’s been ignored. The earliest examples of the transformative qualities of cars were seen in towns and cities, where roads were more likely to be hard-topped, gasoline and spare parts were widely available, and a core group of interested and wealthy sponsors were present. Women, just as much as men, were a fundamental part of these circles.
Although they were a minority in the world of motoring, women had a big impact on driving. Men frequently attempted to limit or prohibit female drivers, and often ridiculed their driving ability, but that didn’t stop the emergence of a number of famous female motorists. Writers Emily Post and Edith Wharton were well-known figures and women made notable automobile contributions to World War I, as ambulance, tram and tractor drivers. This demonstrates to us that although we often believe that women and cars did not mix until much later, there was a core of urban and suburban women for whom driving was useful, necessary or just plain adventurous even in the early years of the twentieth century.
In families in the early twentieth century, women often enjoyed some access to the family motor vehicle. Although men considered that they should be granted priority as the wage-earners and head of the household, women were not solely passengers, dependent on their partner to chauffeur them around. However, cars were not considered a feminine pursuit. Women may drive them, but they were expected to show no interest in them. It would take a very long time for this belief that cars were a man’s domain to disappear (some might argue that it still pervades in some form today).
Perhaps in response to this historical bias, women tend not to show so great an interest in cars as men. They are perceived to choose functionality over form. Where, for many men, their car is a hobby as much as a mode of transport, for many women it is simply a necessity. Could it be that this is a subconscious decision to turn their backs on a world which has historically been so set on excluding them? Maybe this explains the lack of interest in anything which they do not need to know by necessity, and the appetite for cars which deliver them with the most practical technology, rather than those with which they are forced to engage on some level and acquire knowledge of. Classics must exemplify this discretionary world most of all, being that they are the very vehicles of their oppression.
It would be unfair, exclusionary and just plain wrong, however, to say that all women are disinterested in cars, in the same way that it would be wrong to say that all men are passionate about them. It is true that some women don’t have any interest in cars beyond the most basic meeting of their needs (as is true of many men), but even so, the fact remains that women buy and drive cars. Cars today are, irrefutably, as much in the female domain as the male. If women want to see them as a hobby, they are just as well equipped to do so. Attitudes are changing, and now, even the CEO of General Motors is female, demonstrating a turn in the tide. Despite this, there’s still much to do. But still, it appears to be a step in the right direction.
What Women Want
One of the areas in which these attitudes are most stubbornly pervasive is the classic car scene. You can still guarantee that, if you visit a classic car show, you’ll find a lot of men between 45 and 75 milling around, beer in hand. This doesn’t mean that change is not occurring. Although predominantly male, classics car enthusiasts no longer belong to an exclusively masculine club. Women, particularly baby boomers, have been getting in on the classic car hobby in increasing numbers.
To say that women are supposed to have no opinion on cars, Hagerty Insurance recently published some statistics which show that they know exactly what they want. Here are the classics that ladies love…
Everyone loves America’s longest-running sports car. The most popular are cars from the 1950s and 1960s, but the 1970’s Stingray has also seen a surge in popularity of late.
The Mustang and the Corvette seem to share a wide-spread popularity across genders and generations. With a dizzying palette of interior and exterior colours available, and an unrivalled degree of individuality, it’s no surprise, really, that there is a Mustang for everyone.
A new-found interest in vintage Camaros is probably attributable to their recent successful reintroduction, which has fostered a surge in popularity for the original. With an extensive array of colours and style options, as well as an impressive amount of power under the hood, it’s no surprise that Camaros enjoy a wide-ranging appeal.
The new Beetle has proved to be an overwhelming favourite amongst female buyers, and the classic version shares its feminine appeal. Beetles make a wonderful first car for collectors, as they’re inexpensive to maintain and a lot of fun to drive. The influx of females only just starting to enter the scene means a lot of first-time buyers, with could explain their run-away popularity amongst female classics enthusiasts.
One of the most long-standing trends amongst female classicists is the popularity of the Ford Thunderbird. Like most of the classics on this list, the Thunderbird is easy-to-maintain and dependable, making it ideal for those just entering the classics scene.
You might wonder why women are suddenly developing this newfound interest in motoring and classic cars. If so, ask yourself this instead: why not? Some of these cars might hail from an era when women were still considered second-class citizens, but today, if they want to add any one of those classics to their garage, they have just as much right to do so as any man – and perhaps that’s where the true appeal of classics lies. Women are developing an interest in classics because, finally, they can.